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Mafia Vs. Ninja
(1984)
 

Director: Robert Tai             
Cast:
Alexander Lou, Charlema Hsu, Silvio Azzolini


Long-time readers of The Unknown Movies will know well about my occasional examinations of the weird and wild world of Hong Kong movies. A couple of these times have been looks at the cut-and-paste ninja movies of Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai. Ninja Champion and Ninja: Silent Assassin are two of the many times where one or both of these gentlemen took an unfinished movie (mostly action, but occasionally straight drama), and inserted newly-filmed footage of one or more Caucasian actors (Richard Harrison, Stuart Sheen, and/or Bruce Baron) acting as ninjas, footage which was supposed to tie the whole package together, but more often simply just made the end results even more hilarious than it would have been ordinarily. So it's perhaps inevitable that once again I would check out a crazy Hong Kong ninja movie, and this time around the movie being examined is Mafia Vs. Ninja. Though this time around we have a Hong Kong ninja movie that's different from the norm. For one thing, neither Godfrey Ho or Joseph Lai had anything to do with this effort. But the biggest difference of all is that this is not a cut-and-paste ninja movie. Yes, we actually have a Hong Kong ninja movie that from the start was intended to have ninjas in it! Though despite these differences, some things are still the same - such as there being a ton of unintended laughs.

In the movie's defense, I must admit that it's clear that there was a lot of effort made by the filmmakers to make a movie that would satisfy Who'd have imagined all these ninjas would lose a contact lens at the same time?the action crowd. You can sense this feeling immediately after the opening credits end. During those credits we see out-of-towner Jack Do arriving in Shanghai with his shirt open. That shirt of his (as well as the clothing of everyone he passes) is old-fashioned, but during the credits we see a modern-looking steel bridge, as well as telephone wires and poles. When's this supposed to take place? Anyway, as soon as the credits end, Charlie Woo jumps out of nowhere and tries to clobber Jack with a wooden club. "My friend, what are you doing?" Jack asks politely. The not-so-polite Charlie responds, "You wanna know? I'm going to kill you, you bastard!", and he continues attacking, continuing even when the defending Jack keeps inquiring with more utterances of "My friend". However, Jack manages to overpower Charlie, and finally learns Charlie's motivation for attacking him. See, there had been several women raped in the area recently, and since Charlie saw Jack in this same area - well, he must be the rapist! "I never raped any women!" Jack laughs, and that seems to satisfy Charlie that he somehow got the wrong man despite his logic. However, Jack's statement doesn't satisfy us viewers, because the specific wording he uses for his denial makes us wonder if instead he... I don't want to get into that.

With that issue cleared up, Jack and Charlie become instant friends - hey, what's a little attempted assault amongst people, anyway? And as the issue of these rapes fades away and is never brought up again, both out-of-work friends decide to pool their resources together by becoming roommates and emptying sewage from the city's sewers. When the local "protection" gang comes by to get their $3 monthly fee from each of the men, Jack refuses to pay. "I'm going to make you regret that decision!" yells Yaw, the leader of the gang, which leads to a pretty exciting fight sequence when Jack beats the crap out of them and Charlie lands a couple of blows. The gang reports their unfortunate encounter to their displeased boss To Mau, and while music from Psycho plays on the soundtrack, he tells them to get revenge. But his boss William Chung gets wind of their shaking down, and is very displeased. William lectures To Mau that, "We must remember... the rules and aims of the organization! To protect the weak, to uphold justice, so the people of Shanghai can lead peaceful and happy lives!" Yes, you read that right - we have here an honest mobster! Kind of an oxymoron, but maybe I just don't know the intricacies of Asian culture.

Pissed off that he now can't make a little extra pocket money, To Mau and his underlings decide that the only way they'll get rich is if they staged a coup in the organization and join with the Japanese. So they make some deal with some anonymous pasty-faced Japanese yakuza, and a trap is set with a roadside ambush. Funny thing - the truck blocking the road is modern, but the assassins are Clothes make the man, but it's the cap that displays his machonessdressed in 1930s clothing. Just when does this movie take place? When William car pulls up, the assassins try to make the hit, but our sewage boys just happen to passing by at the time, and in another cool fight sequence the two of them manage to save William - though again, Charlie only manages to land one or two blows. William offers them work, but both Jack and Charlie decline. Getting wind of this, To Mau meets with Jack and tells him that rejection is not so polite in China (but wouldn't Jack know this?), and says that to make amends, Jack should give William.... a basket of pears! And hey, To Mau just happens to have a free basket of pears that Jack can use! Of course, there happens to be a bomb in the basket, and Jack manages to throw it away just before it blows up in William's face. Jack subsequently joins William and his gang in the pursuit of To Mau, though he's barely able to keep up with their car on his one-speed bicycle. Catching To Mau, a mildly upset William exclaims, "If you were angry with me, why didn't you say something? I would have listened to you!" Wow, a mobster who is so sensitive that he gets hurt feelings! Anyway, this leads to a remarkably goofy fight sequence (reversed and speeded-up footage) between Jack and To Mau. Guess who wins?

That night, in a ceremony of pomp and circumstance, Jack and Charlie join the mafia - hey, wait a minute! If this is taking place in China, wouldn't they be some form of Triad organization? Well, personally I think the sound of Mafia Vs. Ninja has more zing than Triad Vs. Ninja. Anyway, the initiation includes Jack having to get into a scrap for several minutes with one of the mobsters, then stopping and saying "Please forgive me!" ("But of course," the other responds.) Next - oh, are we ever going to see any ninjas? Well, in the next scene we finally do. The Japanese guy To Mau was dealing with happens to be the leader of a squad of ninjas, and we discover just how deadly their skills are. Still desiring to take over William's organization, they don their costumes and... hire four mercenaries! If that's a surprise, it can possibly be explained by the fact these ninjas get the crap kicked out of them when they ask the mercenaries to demonstrate their skills. The mercenaries are quite a varied bunch - we have a Sho Kosugi clone, an Oliver Hardy-like samurai (including the small mustache) in a purple robe, an Afro-American kung fu expert, and a Caucasian skilled with knifes. The last one demonstrates his skills when the ninjas attack him with thrown apples that have barely visible wires holding them up, which he neatly cuts in two.

The Japanese guy (I don't think his name has been revealed even at this point) calls a meeting with William, and it's here that we further see the deep integrity William has. The meeting ends with William telling the Japanese guy that he doesn't want the Japanese bringing in opium into Shanghai - but he doesn't seem to have a problem with them coming in to expand their Hardy could only take so many of Laurel's "fine messes" before he crackedgambling and prostitution outfits! With his great concern that no innocent soul in Shanghai get hurt in any way stated as such, he prepares to leave - and that's when the four assassins strike. With the four of them in this fray displaying such outlandish styles, I will only state that your imagination simply cannot properly picture the insane chaos that follows (even if I tell you that the Afro-American can punch someone in the face five times a second.) Jack and Charlie manage to fight them off (well... more like Jack doing 99% of the work again) and escape with their boss, but he has been mortally wounded. In his dying breath, he pleads with them to keep opium out of Shanghai. "I will take revenge for you!" declares Jack. Guess he didn't say that "we" -  as in Charlie and himself - would take revenge - after all, at this point of the movie, Charlie has hardly done a damn thing, and that's during the few times he's appeared.

Jack (and maybe Charlie as well) don't start any plans of revenge quick enough; just barely minutes after William has passed on, all of the other members of the organization are massacred. Then with Jack's cry of "Revennnnnggggeeeeeee!", he and Charlie commence striking back, working their way up from the mercenaries to the evil ninja warrior and his gang - though remembering how sucky these ninjas were at fighting, maybe Jack and Charlie are actually working their way down. The many adventures that follow include Jack and Charlie intercepting the ninjas making their neighbourhood drug deliveries in their black uniforms, Jack and Charlie entering a "whites only" nightclub and kung-fuing the crap out of the racists there seemingly just for fun (since this sequence has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever), Jack and Charlie fighting ninjas (or their look-alike mannequins) who display amazing acrobatic skills while simultaneously displaying the visible wires that lift them in the air, and people expelling inhuman amounts of blood or saliva from their mouths when they are hit in the head. This and much more leads to an indescribably bizarre and brutal battle when Jack and Charlie make their final assault on the ninja's compound, going all out against the ninjas and their deadly moving clumps of grass.

To call Mafia Vs. Ninja ludicrous would be an understatement. Certainly a lot of its If the ninja's move won't get our hero, the bad taste in color willsilliness was unintentional; for one thing, this movie has some of the dumbest dialogue ever found on this side of a dubbing studio. But before passing judgment on this movie as just a big colossal mistake by its makers, just think about a lot of the other stuff that's to be found here. The story is so absurd, and the characters are so unbelievable in their personalities and what they do, I think it's safe to say that the makers of this movie weren't taking things completely seriously. I'm sure they saw that there was no way all the events of the movie played out one after the other could be taken seriously together. It looks like they simply abandoned every chance of being taken seriously so that they could have some fun.

And that's what this movie is - pure and simple fun. It's certainly hilarious a lot of the time, but it's also filled with some quite entertaining martial arts sequences. While these martial art sequences might not have the slickness and finesse of those found in Jackie Chan movies, they do share their speed and intense energy, as well as a variety of different fighting styles. (And that final sequence is so relentless with its creativity and action, you are exhausted at its end.) There are certainly some people who will turn up their nose against a movie of this kind, but those who have a sense of pure and simple fun of their own. And since you've logged onto this site, accessed this review, and read all the way down to here, I assume you belong to the latter group. Enjoy.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Ninja Champion, Ninja: Silent Assassin, Robo Vampire

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